Watch Errol Morris’ New Documentary, About the Father of Fractals

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Nov. 18 2013 3:36 PM

Watch Errol Morris’ New Documentary, About the Father of Fractals

Errol Morris begins his new short documentary on Benoît Mandelbrot by asking a wonderfully straightforward question: “The fractal stuff, what was the origins of that?”

Mandelbrot, true to form, approaches this potentially complex question with an answer that is characteristically simple: When he looked at things that seemed extremely complicated to others, they seemed almost transparent to him.

Morris’ new documentary on Mandelbrot takes a similar approach, attempting to distill his work and story into something understandable even for those who don’t know his widely influential fractal geometry.

The short is presented as part of IBM’s “Big Brains, Small Films” series (Mandelbrot worked with IBM for 35 years), but it doesn’t feel like a commercial. It feels like a true Errol Morris film—complete with snazzy reenactments, a minimalist score, and cinematography that uses Morris’ signature Interrotron.

Mandelbrot died just 19 days after sitting down with Morris; IBM says this was his final interview. I’m glad that he got to explain his complex work, in simple terms, one last time.

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

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